Auckland Transport have published the ridership numbers for October.
Here’s the AT table behind the data.
The good news is that overall we’re continuing to see good growth but that isn’t universal with some buses and some ferries both seeing declines compared to last year.
One of the first things I noticed was growth on the rail network of just 6.8% compared to the year before. I’ve been accustomed to seeing double digit growth and this stood out even more when compared to the busway at 15%. This is because the growth rates of both rail and the busway have been almost identical over recent months. It made me wonder what’s caused this sudden disparity, is rail growth finally slowing down or is there another explanation?
Looking deeper, one notable change compared to October last year is that school holidays ran deeper into October this year. Last year the school holidays had a week each in September and October. However this year both weeks fell in October. With many schools along the rail network, this is likely to have affected it more than it would the Busway. Even so, that’s still impressive growth on the busway.
It did get me thinking about rail growth though. We’ve seen huge growth over the last few years and it can’t go on for ever. So what numbers are we going to see on rail before the City Rail Link is opened, likely in 2023.
As part of the business case for additional trains, AT says this:
the ‘best estimate’ growth – which assumes that the current 17% annual growth drops to 10% next year and then 8% each year until the CRL opens in 2023
Given the strong growth we’ve seen, this seems low at first, however, that growth is coming off a higher base. There were 19.6 million trips in the last financial year and with those growth rates, by 2023 we would reach 31.7 million trips. That seems quite high but would be impressive if we could reach that level. It might be a good target for AT to aim for, to ensure they keep pushing service and quality improvements and not just expect the CRL to solve things.
What do the number show us
One of the remarkable things about the growth we’ve seen is just how consistent it’s been. The number of trips being added annually has been hovering at around 2.8 million trips for some time. But because each new result is coming from a higher base, it means the percentage rate of growth is decreasing and doing so relatively consistently. This is shown in the graph below.
If we were to extrapolate that line forward until it reached zero, that would occur at about the end of 2021. Add in some small growth and by 2023 ridership would be around 26 million trips annually. To me that feels about right but I’d obviously be happy for it to be higher.
Of course we’ll have to wait and see just what happens and how strong growth continues to be. But there are a few things Auckland Transport could do to push along that growth. Also remembering that on top of this they’re buying more trains to give more capacity at peak times.
Further increasing rail use
Finish getting the New Network rolled out
The new network is partly about better integrating buses and trains into a single cohesive network. Once rolled out we’d expect to see more people transferring to trains for part of their journey. The South and West networks have already been rolled out. East Auckland is scheduled for 10 December while the Isthmus is not till July next year.
Implement the timetable proposed years ago
A few years ago Auckland Transport published the latest Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP). One of the functions of the RPTP is to set out just what services will exist on the network and their frequencies. The table below shows ATs plans for rail services with them being frequent all day and on weekends too. Frequent services are required to support the new bus network being rolled out as they are meant to integrate together.
This was meant to have been implemented by now but other than at peak, we remain a long way off these and the currently announced plans for a timetable next year don’t look like they will make much of a dent.
Discussions are continuing with Transdev and KiwiRail for the 2018 Train Timetable, to be introduced on 1 July 2018. The timetable specification includes operating Western & Southern Line services to Parnell Station throughout the day; Pukekohe Shuttle services operating on a 20-minute through the AM and PM peak, and 30 minutes at all other times.
Every time I’ve travelled off-peak or on a weekend, trains have been busy. Not standing in the isles busy but with a decent load of people. I suspect there’s quite a bit of latent demand that could be unlocked by improving frequency.
Speed up trains with better operations
Our new electric trains are a massive improvement over what we had before, but they can be horrifically slow at stations. AT need to address the door and associated operational issues to get these services sped up.
Off Peak Fares
The name kind of says it all, but it would be good if AT were to try and encourage spreading of peak demand by offering cheaper fares off peak